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Facebook takes action against drug peddlers on Instagram

Published on 09/04/18 at 10:56am

Facebook can’t catch a break at the moment, after being widely criticised for its practices over the security of users’ data, it is back in the headlights after a campaign began to stop users selling prescription drugs over its platforms.

The outcry began over the ease with which users were able to post on Instagram advertising certain prescription drugs by using hashtags, such as #Oxycotin, #Fentanyl and other similar hashtags. In such posts, users were able to point viewers towards their encrypted chat details to follow-up and buy drugs.

Essentially, it allowed a number of users to use the Instagram platform to sell prescription drugs and to partially contribute to the opioid crisis that North American has been facing in the last decade.

Facebook has now acted by blocking content associated with certain hashtags, making the lives of the drug dealers more difficult. Searches for #Oxycontin now produce no results, but #Fentanyl still produces over 17,000 results.

This step by Facebook follows shortly after social media was directly signposted by FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, as having played a part in the rise in the use of opioids.

“I know that internet firms are reluctant to cross a threshold, where they could find themselves taking on a broader policing role,” he said. “But these are insidious threats being propagated on these web platforms.”

Gottlieb also announced that he would be inviting leaders from the tech industry to a summit where the role their companies play in the opioid epidemic could be discussed.

A spokesperson of Instagram said of the development that “community guidelines make it clear that buying or selling prescription drugs isn't allowed on Instagram and we have zero tolerance when it comes to content that puts the safety of our community at risk.”

How far the restriction of showing content associated with certain hashtags will do to stop the trade on the social media sites remains to be seen; alternative hashtags have already sprung up that circumvent the effort to restrictions.

Ben Hargreaves

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